COLUMBIA — Two weeks ago, Missouri linebacker Steve Redmond couldn’t walk by the television screen in the locker room without recognizing the game that was on. There are a few TVs in the Tigers’ changing area, but the one playing the Aug. 30 Illinois game caught Redmond’s eye. As he watched Jeremy Maclin return a kick 99 yards for a touchdown, he knew what would come on the next play: his season-ending injury.
Redmond stood next to freshman linebacker Caleb Freeman as they watched an Illinois player get hit, then roll into the back of Redmond’s right leg. After Redmond saw himself crumble on screen and heard the announcers mention his name, he turned to Freeman and said, “It didn’t hurt.”
Missouri (9-4) vs. Northwestern (9-3)
WHEN: 7 p.m. Monday
WHERE: San Antonio
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
It’s true — that moment his body went into shock so that he didn’t feel immediate pain. And even though Redmond coped with plenty of physical and emotional pain in the weeks following the injury, he had finally accepted what happened and seeing the game barely phased him now. He had other things to think about, like taking a test the next day, meeting with an adviser about graduate school options and commencement on Saturday, not to mention starting a career and getting married in the spring.
Redmond finished getting dressed, and went to the weight room to work out.
“As an athlete, (the injury) it’s devastating, but as a person, it’s just another story to tell,” Redmond said. “I’m still breathing, still waking up every morning. When it’s all said and done, it’s just another story to tell my grandkids.”
Of course, it wasn’t always easy for the fifth-year senior to watch the play that cost him his final season as Tiger. Like many high-level athletes, Redmond had to endure the difficult transition from competitor to injured player. It’s a change that gets the best of many athletes, whose very identity can be shattered by a single blow. For others like Redmond, an injury is an opportunity — painful but a chance for growth and greater understanding of oneself.
Missouri Director of Sports Medicine Rex Sharp said there are four stages any athlete experiences after an injury: Stage 1, Denial; Stage 2, Anger; Stage 3, Depression; and Stage 4 Acceptance.
“Everybody handles it a little bit different,” Sharp said. “Some people take longer than others, but those stages are always there.”
You can’t understand the peace Redmond has reached unless you recognize each step that led to it. He couldn't accept the injury before overcoming depression, and he couldn't even get angry until he came out of denial.
Maybe his story is best told backwards.
STAGE 4 — ACCEPTANCE:
Redmond decided to use the time he no longer put toward football to visit career fairs, contact sales companies and shadow sports marketers. He doesn’t have a job offer yet, but he knows more about his options.
Kassie Drew, his fiancée, will finish graduate courses in July. Redmond graduated with a general agriculture degree last Saturday and is thinking about grad school, too.
“I’ve seen the world outside of sports now,” he said.
Redmond never expected to be a top draft pick, but before his injury, the backup linebacker thought he could go to NFL Pro Day in the spring and make the workout roster. It wasn’t a guarantee, but he hoped to work hard and eventually sign as a free agent.
After tearing three ligaments in his knee, a long shot became an impossibility.
“Recovery time for my injury is six to eight months, so I’m thinking I wouldn’t even be 100 percent after Pro Day training,” Redmond said. “I had to put that on the back burner and start to focus on other things.”
For players with greater professional prospects, the acceptance stage might take longer to reach. But whether it takes weeks or years, athletes only reach that stage when they find something to take the place of the identity lost with their injury.
Redmond considers this a positive change in his life. He knows an NFL career is typically only three to five years anyway.
“For me it’s been about just changing my focus,” he said.
Still, Redmond’s injury magnified his love of sports. He might want to be a coach or personal trainer.
Following his second surgery in mid-November, Redmond changed his attitude toward physical therapy. He was no longer in “prehab,” a period of strength building before the procedure to repair his ACL and PCL. That had felt useless, but with all his ligaments repaired now, Redmond could finally envision full recovery.
“After the first couple weeks of being down, I started picking up,” Redmond said. “I was more determined the second time around. I said, ‘I’ll go in and attack rehab.’”
Rex Sharp, who oversees Redmond’s treatment and training, said he noticed Redmond’s more positive attitude after the final surgery. Sharp said Redmond is a “perfect example” of someone who doesn’t let an injury destroy him.
“I wish I knew what it was,” Sharp said. “I can only call it heart.”
STAGE 3 — DEPRESSION:
Redmond had thought of himself as a senior leader on the team, but once he was hurt, he did not understand how he could help.
“I thought, ‘There goes the whole basis of my leadership,’” he said. “Why be around if I can’t play? I always thought unless you see me do it, my words don’t carry any weight.”
Surgery and travel limitations kept Redmond from some of the away games, but even when he went, he didn’t always feel part of the team. The coaching staff and players were supportive, he says, but it didn’t change that helpless feeling injured athletes know too well.
Redmond still woke up at 8 a.m. on game days. He went to the locker room with his team, but he wasn’t putting on pads and he didn’t have to get in the same mindset.
“I’m just there cheerleading,” he thought.
Redmond lost motivation to go out after games. Not only did standing for a long time hurt his knee, he just didn’t see a point anymore.
“Yeah, I’m on the team,” Redmond said. “But I didn’t do anything to help us win. Why would I go out?”
Sport is a large part of any college player’s identity because of the amount of time they dedicate to it and the success they enjoy as a result. Sports psychologists say most injured players go through a grieving process for the loss of their “athletic self.”
Redmond, like others, found the lack of routine especially difficult at first.
“(As an athlete) you go to class, you have a meeting, go to the complex, go to practice. It’s what you do every day of the year pretty much,” Redmond said. “Thursday you’ve got the run through, then Friday you’re at the hotel.”
Even for Redmond, who says he never “just relied on football,” such a damaging injury caused a lot of grief.
“I don’t even know what to say. Being a normal student was weird for me,” he said.
Redmond thought of all that football had done for him over the years. He had gotten to travel, go to bowl games and make lasting friendships. If he hadn’t been a football player, he thought, he probably wouldn’t have met his future wife. Kassie Drew was a guard for Missouri’s women’s basketball team.
“I didn’t realize how big of a deal, how much of a privilege it is being an athlete here,” Redmond said. “I felt like that was all being taken away.”
STAGE 2 — ANGER:
The first week following the injury was hardest for Redmond. He had surgery on Tuesday, then did almost nothing besides sleep and eat for the next few days. While the rest of the team prepared for the first home game, Redmond lounged in a recliner — home on a Friday night for the first time in four years.
“I’d look at my knee and think, ‘It’s never going to be normal again.’”
He hated needing crutches to go to the bathroom. He hated asking his fiancée to get him a glass of water. For athletes who pride themselves on their physical ability, nothing is more frustrating than being immobile.
“It was pretty bad,” Redmond’s fiancée Kassie Drew remembered. “He was so down mentally.”
Drew looked at Redmond sitting next to her at the table, both thinking about the unpleasant memory.
“I was mentally defeated, I’ll say that,” Redmond admitted. “Between the pain of not playing and the actual pain I was in, it was tough.”
The first time Redmond watched film of his injury, he felt bitter.
“I saw myself running straight on, and I thought, ‘I should have jumped,’” Redmond said. “As if I knew the dude was going to fly into me, like I had a Spidey sense and could have done something.”
STAGE 1 — DENIAL:
Redmond tried to tell himself everything would be OK. His teammates helped him off the field, repeating, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”
On the sideline, team physician Dr. Pat Smith saw how loose Redmond’s knee was and immediately knew the MCL had torn. X-rays that night were inconclusive about Redmond’s other ligaments.
“I’m thinking, if it’s the MCL that’s one to two months, that’s fine, that’s fine,” Redmond remembered.
An MRI the day after the injury revealed Redmond’s ACL and PCL had also torn. The injuries meant two surgeries and at least six to eight months of recovery.
“When I found out my ACL was gone, it was just like, man,” Redmond said, suddenly at a loss for words. He shrugged his shoulders and looked off to the side for a moment. “I took it on the chin. I thought, ‘What am I going to do now?’"
MOMENT OF IMPACT
Redmond felt determined to make this season his best. He had played in every game in 2006 and 2007 as a backup linebacker or on special teams. Although shoulder surgery interrupted his spring training and knee surgery for a microfracture kept him out of the first few weeks of summer camp, Redmond brought himself back to full strength by the start of school. He also changed his attitude about his role on the team.
“At first I didn’t understand what a privilege and honor it is to be on special teams,” Redmond said. “I finally figured out that as much as I’d like to be a starter, the guys in front of me are extremely good, so I’m going to play special teams as strong as I can.”
With his mind right and his body healthy, Redmond expected big things for his senior year. And for the first 19 minutes and 48 seconds of the season, it all went according to plan.
In the season-opener against Illinois, Redmond made the tackle on Missouri’s first kickoff. He almost had an assist on the second. Fired up after Maclin’s field-spanning touchdown that put the Tigers back in the lead, Redmond charged forward on the team’s third kickoff.
“I got caught up in a double team,” Redmond remembered. “Someone knocked one of their guys, and he rolled up into the back of my leg. Then I realized I couldn’t walk.”
“As an athlete, it’s devastating, but as a person, it’s just another story to tell.”